Five companies make a quarter of the world’s disposable plastics

The top five companies behind disposable plastics (often shopping bags, straws, and food packaging materials that end up in landfills and cluttered beaches) are four-quarters of the world’s total, supported by demand from the United States. It occupies nearly one. China.

According to a study by the charity Minderoo Foundation, oil major ExxonMobil, chemical group Dow, and Chinese oil refiner Sinopec produced 110 million tons of polymers, or disposable plastic components, in 2019. At the top of the company list.

Chemical company Indorama Ventures and oil company Saudi Aramco were the fourth and fifth largest producers, respectively.

The top five companies generated a total of approximately 26 million tonnes of plastic waste, according to a report based on research by the United Nations, the World Bank, national customs data, and consultancy Wood Mackenzie. Nearly half of that, or 11 million tonnes, was used in the United States and China.

Plastic waste is “a big problem … By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean, heavier than fish,” said Thunder Defluite, who heads the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Initiative. Stated.

The root cause was our “disposable society”. Each country needs to move from a system based on resource extraction to a system based on resource circulation.

Plastics are made from fossil fuel-based chemicals that do not break down like food, but break down into smaller and smaller pieces when discarded. Disposable plastic products are often recyclable, but many are not, and millions of tonnes of plastic waste flow into the ocean each year.

As plastic-studded beach images became a familiar sight, the government began cracking down on materials with plastic bans or taxes.

Last year, the UK banned disposable plastic straws, stirrs and cotton swabs and raised prices for plastic bags. China plans to outlaw disposable bags and cutlery in major cities and extend the plastic ban until 2025.

To seduce eco-friendly shoppers, consumer brands such as coffee chain Starbucks and fast-food retailer McDonald’s have begun to replace disposable plastic products with paper alternatives. In April, grocery store Morrisons announced that it would be the first British supermarket to completely remove plastic bags from stores.

Dow said in its 2020 annual report that plastics are facing “increasing public surveillance.”

“Local governments, state governments, federal governments, and foreign governments are increasingly proposing and, in some cases, approving bans on certain plastic-based products, including disposable plastics,” which could impact demand. Said there is.

Nevertheless, producers expect global demand for plastics to increase due to population growth and the expansion of the middle class. The pandemic has also encouraged increased use of disposable items, which have been regarded as a way to minimize viral infections.

Graph showing that the top five producers produced one-fifth of disposable plastics in 2019

Exxon states in its 2020 annual report that global demand for chemicals will increase by more than 40% by 2030. Exxon’s Chemicals division will be the only profitable segment in 2020, “Food Packaging Hygiene and Healthcare”.

Helen McGeough, team leader of ICIS’s global analyst team for plastic recycling, said government bans tend to be narrow. The “real challenge” for producers was the risk of “manufacturers starting to switch from plastic” to please shoppers, she said.

According to Minderoo’s report, disposable plastics make up more than one-third of all plastics produced each year, most of which are made from “unused” materials, fossil fuels rather than recycled materials. The analysis tracked the production of five polymers, which make up almost 90% of all disposable plastics.

Many disposable plastic products are technically recyclable, but often end up in landfills, burned, or disposed of directly in the environment.

The question was “whether the system is in place from a collection and reprocessing perspective,” McGeough said. The lack of such a system worldwide means that large producers may not have enough recycled material to rely on it alone, she added.

Graph showing that low- and middle-income countries are large net importers of disposable plastics from high-income countries

Defruyt said the government should introduce an “extended producer responsibility” scheme that requires people to pay for the management of waste produced by businesses. Given the scale of the challenge, “The only place we can raise this money is from the industry.”

In a statement, Exxon said, “We agree that we must share and address social concerns about plastic waste. Nearly 3 billion people around the world have an appropriate waste collection or disposal system. Is not available. ”

Exxon declined to comment on whether there was a goal to increase the proportion of plastics from recycled materials, but said he was “working on advanced recycling solutions.”

Indorama Ventures, which scored a high score for resource “circulation” compared to most other producers, will have 50 billion PET bottles in 750,000 tonnes of recycled material annually by 2025, according to a Minderoo report. He said he promised to invest $ 1.5 billion to recycle.

Dow declined to comment, but noted the goal of being able to collect, reuse, or recycle 1 million metric tons of plastic by 2030.

Saudi Aramco said: “Plastics have played an important role in improving living standards in many economies .. To solve the problem of plastic waste, consumers, manufacturers, technology developers, the financial community, We need the participation and long-term commitment of all elements of society, including government and civil society. “

China Petrochemical did not respond to requests for comment.

Additional Report by Chris Campbell and Patrick Maturin

Five companies make a quarter of the world’s disposable plastics

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